Focus On: Naima Green
Three years ago, the artist Naima Green was doing research at the New York Public Library when she came across a reference to a work by Catherine Opie that she’d never heard about, much less seen. Opie’s Dyke Deck (1995) is a set of 54 playing cards that is also a set of 54 small, black-and-white portraits, a snapshot of the Bay Area queer community in the 1990s. “I immediately felt connected to the form,” says Green, who promptly bought a Dyke Deck on eBay. “I felt seen and comforted in a lot of ways, but I also wanted to see more of my own community.” With Opie’s blessing, Green began shooting portraits for her own deck, Pur·suit, which reflects the queer community of color in New York. Her subjects, friends as well as people who answered an open call, include the writer Jenna Wortham, the photographer Lola Flash, and the groups Yellow Jackets Collective and bklyn boihood, a collective of queer, masculine presenting people of color. Although she photographed more than 100 people in just nine days in 2018, it’s clear that Green has a knack for connecting with her subjects. Self-possessed and confident, her subjects are beautiful, and they’re seen.
Selections from Pur·suit are on view at Fotografiska New York through February 7 in the exhibition Brief & Drenching, which also includes other photographs, a short, intimate film – The intimacy of before (2020) – and objects and furniture from her apartment that together form a multi-faceted self-portrait.
Pur·suit not only diversifies representations of queerness, but it cuts across conventional hierarchies. We think of portraiture as formal genre, and her photographs play with that history. Draped silk fabrics in slate grey and dusty mauve, a pale pearled cloth, and ivory tulle make up the backdrop for the portraits. Luxurious and elegant, they signal that the sitter is a person of significance. But the portraits are on playing cards, a vernacular and inexpensive format. Decks are available on Green’s website for $65, more than the $3 you might pay for a deck of cards at the bodega around the corner, but a lot less than a framed photograph by Green. It’s an accessible work of art, designed to be used, and designed to enrich the archive of imagery of and narratives by queer people of color. “I see them functioning as objects that people play with,” says Green. “And I see them functioning as photographs that can be exhibited.”